What's the Difference Between the ACT and SATs?

This article describes key differences between the ACT and the SATs, including subject matter, type of test and scores.

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When you're preparing for college, you'll need to take either the SATs or ACT. Some colleges will tell you which test they prefer, while other colleges leave it up to the student. By knowing what the significant differences are between the two tests, you'll be able to decide which one is best for you.


  • The ACT is considered an achievement test, which means it features questions about standardized curricula.
  • The subjects covered on the ACT are English, math, reading, science and writing. The writing test is optional.
  • The ACT only counts correct answers. Incorrect answers are not counted against the student.
  • Students pick which ACT scores are sent to colleges.
  • The ACT is offered in September, October, December, February, April and June.
  • Middle school students, high school students and high school graduates can take the ACT.
  • The ACT is only offered in English.
  • The ACT only provides extended time limits for students with disabilities.
  • The registration forms for the ACT can be completed online or through the mail.
  • The highest possible score is 36, and the average score is around 21.

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  • The SAT tests a student's reasoning and verbal skills.
  • The SAT is considered to be an aptitude test, meaning that it tests for inherent abilities instead of acquired knowledge.
  • The SAT I is a reasoning test, while SAT II is a subject test.
  • The subjects covered on the SAT reasoning test are reading, writing and math.
  • The 25-minute writing test is mandatory.
  • The SAT awards one point for correct answers and deducts 1/4 point for incorrect answers. This is to prevent random guessing.
  • SAT scores are sent to every college the student lists.
  • The SAT can be taken from October through December and from April through June. A January test date is also offered.
  • The SAT is usually taken by juniors and seniors in high school.
  • The SAT I is only offered in English. (Several SAT subject exams test students' knowledge of foreign languages.)
  • Like the ACT, the SAT only provides extended time limits for students with disabilities.
  • The registration forms can be completed online or sent through the mail.
  • The highest total combined score on the SAT is now 2400. A 50th percentile score is slightly higher than 1500.
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